10 min Greenwood feeds a short pass into Fernandes and Coady comes right through him, knee bashing into knee. Free-kick United, 25 yards out and just right of centre…
9 min Wan-Bissaka advances down the right and has options, so clips a floater into Sa’s grateful arms. He giveth and he taketh away.
7 min Fred finds Fernandes, who drags a weak shot from distance wide.
5 min United’s set-pieces were good last week, save their finishing from them, but this time the delivery is poor and when Fred gives it away – fail to prepare, prepare to fail – Trincao leads Wolves away at inside-right! He dashes into the box, De Gea comes out to narrow the angle … and Trincao slots under his extended leg, only for Wan-bissaka to extend a go-go Gadget leg, saving on the line! But that’s twice United have been shredded on the counter, twice on account of Fred’s careless feet!
4 min Pogba seems to be sitting deep and next to Fred when United are defending, before bounding forward to make an extra man in attack, and as they build down the left a Shaw cross is blocked behind for a corner.
2 min But here he comes, weaving inside, and United move it nicely until Fred gives it away – Ctrl C, Ctrl V – and Traore barrels from box to box before slipping to Jimenez outside him! There’s a man at the back stick but Jimenez shoots and De Gea saves with his feet, low by the near post! Fred then does enough to persuades Traore to volley fresh air as the ball comes down, and what a start that almost was!
2 min Sancho is on the left for United with James on the right. I’m not sure why – I think both prefer that side, but Sancho is more comfortable where he’s less comfortable.
1 min To avoid clashing with Wolves’ gold, United have binned their red for a blue and white affair as they try to make coin out of nostalgia for the snowflake effort of 1990-91 and 1991-92.
It’s so good to see Raul Jimenez back. I’ve no idea of the mental strength it takes to put yourself about after so horrific an injury, but I’m certain it’s a lot, and I’m sure he’ll be back to his old self very soon.
Hwang Hee-chan, Wolves’ new signing from Leipzig, has been introduced to the crowd – he’ll play after the international break – and here come the teams!
“I agree with Matthew Richman,” says Rich Harris. “United last season drew far too many games and ultimately that cost them a serious title challenge. Ronaldo is still one hell of a player. Traoré can be unplayable, but his end product is variable. I don’t agree there is no one else like him in world football though. Alain St-Maximin at Newcastle and Kylian Mbappe spring to mind.”
Those you name are good players, but they don’t have Traore’s physicality. Otherwise, United just weren’t good enough to win the league last season, and their major problem was the lack of a midfielder able to control the tempo of the game while allowing Pogba and Fernandes to create. They still don’t have that, and it cost them last week.
Wolves will not a lot from their wing-backs today, because you can be sure United will want to get at them in wide areas, sending the full-backs forward with the wingers. But also in attack, neither Neves nor Moutinho like to run past the strikers, so Semedo and Marcal will need to get into the box and help Traore and Trincao create overloads.
“Why Daniel James and not Lingard?” asks Freddy Davidson. “Only thing James brings is pace while Lingard brings goals and consistency and Mata brings creativity and composure. Why not start either one of them two? I’ll guarantee James is coming off at the start of the second half.”
James allows United to speed the game up because his pressing is good, is better off the left where there’s a gap today, and is fully fit. Lingard, on the other hand, has had corona, which can take it out of you physically.
Eesh, Solskjaer says Ronaldo is a “great human being” and will add something to the squad that he’s not got. He goes on to say that Lindelof is “rested” – course he is, sweetheart – and hope the team start on the front foot. Molineux can be a difficult place to go, but he expects the away end to be buzzing. He’s not bothered about United’s unbeaten away record, and last week’s point is only a decent one if they win today. His team are gradually improving, and he’s added experience to youth this summer, as well as Sancho, and Ronaldo enjoys being told he’s too old so he can prove people wrong. Solskjaer says the paperwork isn’t complete yet, but perhaps the plan is to present Ronaldo on the pitch as with Varane.
On Friday, Solskjaer said this: “When you’ve got a game every eight days it’s hard for a manager when you’ve got the quality of players I’ve got to leave players out, but it’s just the balance between consistency and rotation,” and his ability to manage this will be key. United’s best football of the late-Fergie era came in 06-07, but because the squad was small, they lost the Champions League semi and cup final before limping over the line in the league. So that summer, Nani, Anderson and Hargreaves arrived and United won old big ears, but the cohesion was never quite the same.
“I see Ronaldo as a far better fit for this United side than he would be for City,” emails Matthew Richman. “For all of the attacking talent Ole has to call on, only Cavani is a target man in the box. For a team that struggled to break down deep defences last year, having one of the world’s most reliable goal-getters leading the forward line just doesn’t seem like a bad thing.”
I see that too – I’d expect Ronaldo to play between the width of the posts, and with Sancho, Shaw, Pogba and Fernandes around, he should get decent service. But if he can’t press opposing defenders, that might stop United speeding the game up and winning the ball high up the pitch – perhaps Bruno will do that while he drops. It’s going to be interesting finding out.
“Apropos of absolutely nothing (as you’ll shortly see), if the league title were decided on the total number of diacritical marks in the names of players, would Wolves have this in the bag? Between the 25 players with numbers listed on Wikipedia I count 15 total diacritical marks; an outrageous 0.6 diacritical marks per player. And that’s not including another three from the eight players currently on loan from Wolves.
Anyway, of slightly more footballing interest: I really hope this will be a good game. Wolves with a deserved reputation for upsetting members of the so-called big six, and a Manchester United packed full of quality .. .but is Solskjaer trying to get one too many still-quite-new signings to gel at once? Will both teams just try to counter, leading to a dreadfully tedious stalemate (I hope not)? Let’s find out!”
Wolves, what a team! I doubt we see a tentative one today because both sides need a win and are set up to attack. If I was Lage, I’d have stuck an extra man in midfield I think, because the way it looks, they’re not going to test United’s most obvious weakness – two attackers there, and Fred. Other hand, he’s trying to bed in a style and this is a home game, so it’s understandable that he’s sticking to what he wants.
Lage tells Sky that Wolves have had a good week. He saw the same dynamic at Forest despite making seven changes and expects another good performance against a strong team. He’s told his team to defend when they have to but to try and keep the ball when they have it as big teams don’t like to be without it.
Spurs have beaten Watford 1-0 and go to the top of the table. But imagine how much higher they’d be if Mourinho was still in charge!
Burnley-Leeds has finished 1-1, so the home side move out of the bottom three to 16th, while Leeds are one place above. Arsenal are at the foot.
I’m really excited to see how Traoré does this season. There’s no other player in world football who can do what he can do at his best, and a team with an attacking intention should help him reach that level more often. I’ve not seen much of Trincao, who plays on the opposite flank, but Neto should be back before winter, and those two along with Jimenez makes for an extremely tasty threesome.
Here are my thoughts on Ronaldo to United, should anyone want them. As far as the football bit goes, I have reservations – can he press, is Solskjær strong enough to leave him out? – but there are also aspects that should improve things – inspiring the squad, reliable goalscoring, big-game temperament. Of course, there’s more than football to consider in all this, and that’s a very different matter.
“Has Ronaldo arrived in Manchester yet?” asks Richard Harris. “Is he in the stands? Where is he? We need to be told this as soon as possible as it affects the game massively. Sancho will be feeling like he has to score to have any hope of staying in the team, and Greenwood will know that CR7 has form as a goal hanger. What will Ronaldo’s shirt number be? 77?”
I’m afraid I’m not certain of the answers to any of these questions, but my guess is that Ronaldo will use the international break to move – I doubt he’s at Molineux. I think Sancho will be fine, and that we’ll see plenty of rotation, but over the last few months Greenwood has made himself undroppable, so he’ll be fighting with Rashford for a spot in the side.
In pre-season, Solskjaer indicated that he planned to move from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3, which reflects his increased confidence in the parsimony of his defence and menace of his attack. And as far as that goes, Wolves are decent opponents to test things against, because United’s fear – that a midfield three featuring both Pogba and Fernandes might leave them light in that area – should not be threatened too badly by Wolves pair of Neves and Moutinho. Both are fine players, but neither is the kind of physical beast able to get about the pitch for 90 minutes, and there are only two of them.
Leeds have equalised at Burnley, Patrick Bamford with the goal.
As for United, they make changes: as we discussed earlier, Varane is in – I wonder if Lindelof is almost relieved, because he’ll have known as dropping was in the post for most of the summer – while Matic is also omitted. His spot goes to James, who will, I imagine, start on the left which allows Pogba to move back into midfield. Sancho comes in on the right, in place of Martial, whose position through the middle goes to Greenwood, relocated from the flank.
The team news for Wolves is simple: Lage was so satisfied with what he saw against Spurs that he keeps the same side.
We’ll look at those teams properly in a second, but before that, Burnley lead Leeds 1-0 – John Brewin has the latst 10 of that – while Nuno’s Spurs lead Watford 1-0 thanks to another Son goal. If they can hang on, they’ll retain the division’s only 100% record.
Manchester United (4-3-3, finally): De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Maguire, Shaw; Fred, Pogba, Fernandes; Sancho, Greenwood, James. Subs: Heaton, Mata, Lingard, Dalot, Van de Beek, Matic, Lindelof, Cavani, Martial
Afternoon all, and welcome to the Premier League’s most reliably turgid match. Since Wolves returned to the division in 2018 they’ve met United nine times, the 11 goals those games have yielded painting a far more thrilling picture of events than has actually been the case.
But today there’s a strong chance that things will be different. Under Nuno Espirito Santo, Wolves were an unfathomably constipated endeavour, packed with zestful talents like Rúben Neves, Adam Traoré, Pedro Neto, Raúl Jim and Daniel Podence, but sent out to contain and counter when they were good enough to just let it flow.
Bruno Lage, though, has different priorities, his team’s 0 league points and goals unreflective of their aggressive intent or level of performance. Fresh from a midweek hiding of Nottingham Forest, they’ll look to get after United today.
United, meanwhile, might finally be ready to control games rather than punctuate them. If Raphaël Varane starts, they’ll be able to play a higher line in which all four members of their defence can be trusted one-on-one, which should allow Ole Gunnar Solskjær to move Paul Pogba back into midfield and stick Jadon Sancho into the team, alongside two other attackers. After a poor second half at Southampton last weekend, they need a performance, and we’ve not even mentioned the imminent return of Him. This should be enjoyable.